Keeping Your Home Safe with Amazon EchoBy - 01/04/2016
Amazon Echo and I have been roomies for over a year. At first, I was obsessed. But now, as is typical with roommate situations, I find her slightly annoying and slightly fun. I purchased Echo for one reason and one reason only, to answer the unavoidable question, “Can a stationary piece of equipment with a sassy voice really improve your home’s security?”
Although you might think of Alexa as little more than a Bluetooth speaker, she can help improve your home’s security. At first, she worked alone. But now, her family has grown to include Echo Dot and Amazon Tap.
Amazon Echo Dot
Shrink Echo to 1.5″ and you’ll have the Echo Dot. Echo Dot is a smaller, less expensive version of Amazon Echo, but just as smart. Like the original, you can use Echo Dot to stream music from Prime Music, Pandora, or Spotify. She also gives you access to internet radio and podcasts via iHeartRadio and TuneIn, as well as audiobooks from Audible and the Kindle Store. And of course, Echo Dot can use Alexa to control a growing number of smart home devices. If Echo can do it, Echo Dot can do it too.
Echo Dot (2nd Generation)
My heart broke when just a few months after purchasing an Echo Dot. Amazon launched a cheaper, newer model. The original Dot sold for $89.99, the new Dot sells for $49.99, significantly less. So what’s the catch? Depends on what device you’re comparing it to.
When comparing to the original Amazon Echo, the catch is that Dot loses the omnidirectional speaker that gives Echo an extra special sound. Basically, the speaker sucks and is comparable to the sound that comes from your cell phone, but slightly better. The good news is that you can hook up Echo Dot to a Bluetooth speaker or your existing stereo system using an audio cable (sells for $4). If you need help finding a compatible device, Amazon keeps a list of Bluetooth speakers that will work with Dot. The list includes Amazon Tap, more on that later.
When comparing to the original Dot, there are some minor differences besides the obvious price difference.
- The new Dot no longer includes an audio cable. It is now sold separately for $4.
- Color – Black or White
- Replaced volume control with + – buttons.
- “Better processor”. Amazon doesn’t specify how it’s better, but that’s what they claim in the description.
- Size: Gen 1’s height is 1.5 mm. Gen 2’s is only 1.3.
- Weight: Gen 1 is 8.7oz. Gen 2 is only 5.7.
- Power indicator light is gone.
- Warranty: Gen 1 has 1 year warranty. Gen 2 only has 90 days.
- Echo Spatial Perception- Only the Echo closest to you will respond to your request.
Of all the new features, spatial perception is the only one that makes me feel envious. The good news is that Amazon plans to launch this feature as a software update to all current Dot devices.
The final difference is that Echo now has friends. You can purchase kits, which include compatible devices. For example, Dot plus Bose Carbon for $213.99, plus Bose Pearl for $213.99, plus Philips Hue Starter Kit for $99.99, or plus ecobee for $249.00. And if you need lots of Dots, they offer a buy 5, get 1 free package.
If you want to stick Alexa in your pocket and carry her wherever you go, Amazon Tap was made for you. While it’s too big to literally fit in your pocket, it is portable. With a $129.99 price tag, it hosts a Bluetooth speaker with the same audio quality found in Amazon Echo. But unlike Echo and Echo Dot, Amazon Tap is battery-powered and totally wireless. Amazon claims that Tap can stream music for nine hours when fully charged and can last up to three weeks on standby. When you’re ready to charge it, simply set it in the included charging cradle.
Having a battery is awesome, but there is a catch. Unlike Echo and Dot that wake to your pre-selected “wake word”, you can only wake Amazon Tap with a tap. By pressing the microphone button, Tap will wake, giving you full access to Alexa’s features.
Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, or Amazon Tap—Which Should You Get?
As an Echo and Dot owner, I would have initially urged you to choose the original Echo, but I’ve changed my mind. Dot is $50! Hook it up to a speaker, and you have one awesome little home security accessory.
I see why someone might want to buy Tap, but when it comes to home security, Echo and Dot are the best options. I’ve decided to use both in my home. Amazon Echo’s always-listening feature is essential for home security. In a critical emergency, you can call out, asking Alexa to trigger your security system, turn on lights, or sound an alarm. If you are going to walk over to a device and press a button, you might as well use your smartphone so cross Tap off of your list.
Home Security System Integration
Of course, Alexa can’t protect your home on her own. She has to connect to other systems, and she has plenty of options. When connected to other devices, she can add voice control to devices that would otherwise lack this feature. If you feel threatened by someone or something, Alexa can help. A voice command can signal your panic alarm, your security camera, or possibly call for help.
SCOUT, SMARTTHINGS, AND OTHER SMART HUBS
Scout was the first home security system to integrate with Echo. Instead of controlling your security system from a phone or tablet, you can issue a voice command to make things happen.
Echo also works with SmartThings. The SmartThings hub and app allow you to control various aspects of your connected home. However, from a home security perspective, the duo is still rather limited. For example, Echo won’t connect to my door/window sensors, so I can’t ask her if my door is open or closed. It also can’t connect to my motion sensor. For now, the most useful feature is connected lighting. From a home security perspective, connecting SmartThings and Echo together does very little. However, SmartThings will integrate with Echo for free, where Scout charges for integration. Both systems allow you to add professional monitoring without a contract, furthering your home’s protection. If neither system is for you, Echo can also connect directly to Wink and Insteon.
IFTTT and iSMARTALARM
To me, one the biggest home security winners is connecting Echo’s free IFTTT channel. What makes me nervous about suggesting IFTTT for home security is that it hasn’t been entirely bug free in my experience. For example, just yesterday, I asked Alexa to “trigger find my phone, ” and nothing happened. I finally found my phone, no thanks to IFTTT or Alexa, and was surprised to see that I hadn’t missed a call at all. One hour later, I received a phone call from IFTTT via the “find my phone” trigger. I’m not sure who’s to blame, but the communication was seriously delayed. Also, on occasion, a channel will disconnect without warning. For example, I went to troubleshoot a connection to my security system and found that the channel was no longer connected – hence the problem. If I had needed the security system or tried to use a voice command, I would have been in trouble. In an emergency situation, delays are frightening and so are technology glitches.
On the bright side, I can see the potential. Through IFTTT I have Alexa connected to my iSmartAlarm system. I can trigger panic mode, arm my system, disarm my system, and more using my voice. However, like with SmartThings, I still can’t ask Alexa if a door monitored by iSmart is open or closed. I can only execute a trigger if a door is left opened while the system is armed, same with motion sensors.
AUGUST SMART LOCK
August is the first smart lock to integrate with Alexa. With it, you can lock and check the status of your 1st or 2nd (HomeKit-enabled) August Smart Lock. Note that I didn’t say “unlock”. For security reasons, you won’t be able to unlock your door using Alexa.
The integration between the two devices is made possible by an Alexa Skill accessed through the Alexa app. Integrating through an Alexa skill is a little different from a direct integration because it requires you to remember a command phrase. In August’s case, you must say “tell August” when starting a command.
Works with Vivint
Amazon Echo works with the professionally monitored Vivint security system. I saw a demo of this at CES 2016, and it works beautifully. What sets Vivint and Echo apart from other duos is that Vivint will let you use Echo to control your door locks. While it can’t unlock your door or disarm your alarm, it can lock your door and arm your system. Of course, this is for your security, as you wouldn’t want to unlock your door or worse – accidentally let a stranger unlock your door.
Also at CES 2016, Alarm.com announced they are working on an integration with Echo, and it’s here. The integration allows the device to work with multiple professionally monitored security systems beyond Vivint. Alarm.com has decided to start with smart lighting voice control. But over time, the partnership could grow into something more useful and fully focused on home security.
I recently tested this feature with my Frontpoint system. I can arm the system in stay mode using the command, “Alexa, ask Alarm.com to arm my security system”. However, I can’t arm it in away mode (increases the risk of false alarms) nor can I disarm it (security risk). Overall, it’s pretty handy, and I’m excited to see how they expand this skill.
ADT Pulse and Canopy
At CES 2017, ADT announced that they will soon launch an ADT Pulse skill. Unlike the other home security skills, you can not only arm your system and control your smart devices, but you can also disarm it with your voice. They navigate around the potential security risk by requiring a verbal four-digit passcode.
In addition to an Pulse integration, ADT will offer one for ADT Canopy. The to be announced self-installed security option is powered by LG Smart Security. Through Alexa, you can setup scenes using connected smart devices. For example, with a “home from work” scene, you can have your lights dim, temperature adjust, and your favorite music playing as soon as you kick off your shoes.
Slowly but surely, Echo is adding security cameras starting with a direct integration to Blink. Using your voice, you can arm the camera, disarm it, and ask Alexa to name your last motion clip:
— Rose Thibodeaux (@Rose_Thibodeaux) October 5, 2016
If you want to disarm Blink with your voice, you will be asked to create a 4-digit pin, for your safety of course.
In digging through the skills, I’ve also found a skill for Butterfleye, another cordless camera. The skill appears to be in Beta but has some ready functions. By using the skill, you can ask Alexa to recall recent or past events. There is also a skill for Kuna, an outdoor all-in-one security light and camera.
Finally, coming soon, we should see a skill for iSmartAlarm’s newest camera, the iCamera KEEP Pro. I do not know if the camera will work with Alexa alone or if an iSmart security system will be required.
Other Echo Safety Features
Calling For Help
Thanks to a reader, I’ve been introduced to a nifty skill that can call for help without the need to buy additional hardware. My Buddy is a free skill that allows you to trigger a phone call to a trusted person using the phrase, “Alexa, Ask My Buddy to Send Help”. I’ve been testing the skill and hope to have more details soon, but so far the integration has been reliable. My only word of caution if using this to keep watch over a loved one, make sure they memorize and practice the phrase often. In a stressful situation, remembering the above phrase might be tough for some.
In addition to home security integration, Echo works with the Ecobee smart thermostat. Using your voice, you can adjust the temperature in your home. You can also do the same with your Nest thermostat. With Nest, you can ask Alexa to adjust your home’s temperature or even integrate the solution into modes. For example, “good morning Alexa” can set your home’s temperature to something cozier, encouraging you to get out of bed.
With Echo, you can control smart switches with your voice. Using a device like Belkin WeMo, you can make sure you’ve turned off your curling iron (or whatever small appliance you are concerned about) by asking Alexa to turn the switch off.
If you are concerned about your car, you can connect Echo to Automatic. Using the two devices, you can ask Alexa how much gas is left in your car or even if she knows where you’ve parked your vehicle.
Hyundai’s luxury sedan now has an Alexa skill available for use. With the skill, G80 and G90 model users can now use Alexa to control their car’s locks, lights, horn, temperature, and even turn the car on. G90 users will also receive an Amazon gift card to purchase an Echo.
Compatible Devices by Type
If you want to get started connecting your home’s security and smart devices to Alexa, you can purchase your own device for under $180. You can also order Echo Dot online or through your existing device by saying, “Alexa, order an Echo Dot”. Third, Amazon Tap is now on Amazon.com for $129.99. Finally, compare Alexa to Google home here.
Besides the concerns I’ve already shared, I’ll share one more. The hardest part of effectively using Echo is remembering what to say. The more you integrate Alexa into your life, the more phrases you have to remember, and the more complicated it becomes. And trust me, she isn’t always forgiving, which can be frustrating. If you can live with a few quirks, Alexa can add to your home’s security. While right now she is still somewhat limited, the team behind Echo adds updates and new features weekly. It won’t be long until voice commands are commonplace in home security.
Last Updated 01/04/2017
ADT adds Alexa Integration
Read Previous Updates
3/4/2016 updated with Dot, Tap, and Nest
4/1/2016 Updated with a hands-on review of Echo Dot and video.
5/20/2016 Alarm.com features now live and tested.
8/3/2016 updated August Lock
9/20/2016 Echo Gen 2 Update
10/06/2016 Blink and iSmartAlarm KEEP Pro
12/6/2016 Added Kuna